Thursday, August 02, 2007

Knowing When To Walk Away

This week, an absolutely horrid thing happened to a friend of mine. In reality, that’s no different than almost any other week. What has stood out in my mind more than anything else this year is the ongoing spats between people over trivial issues, or in some cases out of pure spite and jealousy. In those cases, we tend to see what we saw happen to my friend: a completely unprovoked attack.

And I was uncharacteristically silent.

As I’ve said before, I don’t do particularly well when friends are attacked. I also don’t do particularly well with conflict. Evil Kev says I love to fight, but he’s mistaken. I love to fight with him. There’s a distinct difference. Fighting is part of the spousal job description.

But no matter how sincere the intention to keep issues to issues and the personal to personal, the lines tend to get blurred. And in the most recent example I’m thinking of, there was no effort to keep it objective. It was a blatant personal attack, the accuser hiding behind the veil of anonymity.

Big surprise. One by one I’ve left forums, lists and even some blogs because of that type of behaviour. Also, because I’m aware of my own weakness when it comes to standing up for someone I feel is being unfairly pushed around. But the emotional cost is high. On the one hand, I feel horrid for not standing up for people when they’re attacked. To be blunt, I think that’s pretty shitty. If you call yourself a friend, there are certain things you do, and standing with friends is one of them.

Unfortunately, that often means standing against someone, and there’s a cost there as well.

Whenever a person takes a stand, they’re going to have people who dislike them for it. People will disagree. And the more honest a person is about their opinions, the greater the chances they’ll ruffle some feathers. I doubt there’s a person reading this who doesn’t know of at least one conflict I’ve been in in the public domain.

Part of me wishes I could just be a smile. You know what I mean. The person who smiles and stays silent when the mudslinging starts. But then, I never feel comfortable with most of those people. They conceal all their opinions. In order to maintain an amiable public image they stand for nothing and nobody and even if a person’s attacked unjustly they’ll keep their nose clean. I never know what those people stand for, other than themselves.

There are people I disagree with about almost everything who I have more respect for, because at least they put their name behind their views and are passionate enough to express them.

But this week… this week I started seeing things differently. I got thinking about hiding. Just walking away for a while. Taking a break, being invisible. I go through this every few months (believe it or not) and sometimes it lasts a day and sometimes a few. This time, it’s been about a week.

Seeing a friend get hurt didn’t help. I felt so much rage I couldn’t see straight. And then there was the sense of powerlessness. There was nothing I could do that would fix things for my friend.

Why is it the path to hate, to division, to judgment and mudslinging is so much easier than the path to camaraderie, friendship, happiness?

Much of the time, I wonder what I’m doing here. I’m not a particularly funny person, so my blog lacks that entertainment value. There are others who whine better, others who report better, and others who do a better job dishing their opinions.

Plus, my life is actually pretty boring.

When I get in one of these modes, what I really start to think is that the only thing I’m doing here is being an idiot, because I’m opening myself up for personal attack from people who don’t like my opinions or decide they don’t like me.

When you put yourself out there, in any capacity, you can be subjected to criticism. There are people who will like your books. There are others who won’t. Some will appreciate the short stories. Others, well, not for them. Some people will like you. And others won’t. Industries being what they are you can be ‘in’ today and ‘out’ tomorrow.

I don’t particularly like that level of vulnerability. And after seeing the spats, the attacks and feeling my own anger and frustration at some things said, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to insulate myself.

And then I remember that a big part of the reason I started this blog was for my own discipline, to write something on a regular basis, and to try to stick to one cohesive train of thought (which is a challenge for me). And part of the reason I’ve kept on with it is for the readers who email and tell me how much they (for whatever reason) enjoy the blog.

There have actually been so many spats and squabbles within our community this year that I’ve had to remember that those we see on the internet are but a small section of the community at large. Most of my emails come from people who’ve never commented here, but read in relative silence. Most of the people who read books don’t participate on lists or forums. And only a fraction of the authors in the genre are active online.

It’s the one bit of truth expressed in a cruel, cold attack. Blogs aren’t life. The internet isn’t life. But I also don’t think anyone here believes it is. This is just a way to keep up with people, to stay in touch, know what’s going on. Most of the blogs I read these days are written by friends – Angie, Amra, Vincent, James, Stuart, Mindy, Anne, Patti, etc. etc. etc. I want to know how they’re doing more than anything else.

And I think when reading stuff online gets me to the point where I’m angry, it’s as good a time as any to pull the plug and just stop reading those sources. Sometimes I have to get it out of my system here, but it is true that most of these ‘arguments’ can’t be won. People aren’t interested in genuine discussion – they’re interested in propping up their hobby horses.

Well, I suppose I have to give them the credit due for actually standing for something. But I’ve come to the point where I have a new respect for the silent smilers I was criticizing earlier. Sure, some may be only about their image and be the type who hoists a flag and follows the winds of popularity on any given day…

But some are people who are smart enough to know that most of these disagreements can't be resolved. And the cost is time, sanity and emotional energy that’s better invested elsewhere.

As much as I've been saddened by some who've stopped blogging (and been annoyed at others who've bullied people until they quit) what matters most is that my friends are comfortable with their decision. They'll have my love and support, even if I miss seeing them here.


Peter said...

One thing I don't like about such debates on crime-fiction forums is that if I'm going to debate about crime fiction, I'd rather discuss, in order, 1) the books 2) the people who write them, and, a distant 3) the bloggers who blog about them.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Christa M. Miller said...

I think I know what you're talking about, Sandra. I deliberately didn't address it because I had just had a mean-spirited comment left on my blog - from family, no less - and was advised to leave it alone, not to give it any fuel and thereby satisfy the poster. So I replied to your friend, but not the other idiot.

I'm trying to take a long view that the lack of support from family is "training" for when perfect strangers take potshots at me... it won't hurt quite as much. Meanwhile, I try to leave supportive comments for friends and strangers I respect, just to "make love, not war." Or something like that.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Peter, exactly. We don't always share the same opinions, but I enjoy your perspective and respect how you present your views. I actually feel like I can have an intelligent exchange with you without it becoming personal, and that's a great thing.

Christa, yes, I suspect you do know what I'm referring to. You were probably wise. I also realized that anything I said would be fuel for the fire.

And I'm sorry about the family comment. It's unfortunate, and can contribute to hard feelings and tension, no doubt. Your philosophy is a good one. In my own experience, my volume of unpleasant mail over my writing/blog is a pretty low percentage compared to the fan mail, but one criticism will stay with you longer than a few dozen compliments. Human nature, I suppose.

Christa M. Miller said...

I learned some statistic when I was in customer service that people who experience positive service tell 2 of their friends, and people who experience negative service tell 11. I wonder why negative sticks with us longer? It's got to be tied into our survival instinct, fight or flight, etc. Remembering threats in order to survive.

The comment I got is just the latest in a long, long line of jabs, disappointments, and general letdowns from someone who is supposed to support and encourage me instead. It does suck, but at least it didn't come out of left field. In fact, it's so bad that even if this person did say something nice, I wouldn't trust it. :P Thanks though.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Christa, you must be my cynical twin! ; )

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said...

I also think I know the comment to which you referred, which scares me. I hate to think I'm part of a small, intimate community of snipers and poisonous back-stabbers who know each other's quarrels and problems without even having to refer to them explicitly. I can think of much pleasanter ways to deviate from the subject at hand! I mean, never mind the mean-spiritedness of such debates; they're just such a waste of time, and most of us probably feel we already spend more time at our computers than we ought to.

Christa, what would you make of this: I complain about the writers and fellow editors at my newspaper far more than I say nice things about them, but when I do bestow a compliment, what a rush I get!

Perhaps we spread negative more than we spread positive news because we're ill-natured, back-stabbing bastards. Or perhaps we just expect adequate service and don't feel compelled to spread the word when we get it.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

jersey jack said...

I am happy to say I have no clue which specific hassle you're referring to. That's because I hate hassles. I don't go where they show up regularly. I leave when I run across them. It's just such a waste of time and (as you rightly point out) energy. I know this is the right path for me because, when I have occasionally been attacked, I get so furious my mind contemplates all kinds of nasty, violent responses. I have books to write, and I don't want to to pen them in jail.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Peter, I don't think it's that you're part of such a community (well, and not that you're not part of the community that there is, but...) the reality is that the online crime fiction community is small. It's barely a drop in the pond next to the number of people who read/write/have some involvement with the crime fiction community at large. And because it isn't very big, if you read the typical blogs you're bound to stumble across the same stuff as others.

What my husband said over there was better than anything I could have said.

Jack, you're smart. Personally speaking, the post in question was the week's required reading. And there wasn't a damn thing wrong with it, just that someone went on anonymously and left an ignorant, hurtful comment on the post. My 2 cents is definitely if you don't like a writer or a blog don't read it. End of story. That's what I do.

JamesO said...

In my humble opinion, an anonymous comment is not worth the name attached to it. Certainly there are times where anonymity is crucial - when criticising brutal regimes from within, for instance. But in the forum of crime fiction blogs, hiding behind a mask is just cowardice. If you don't want to put your name to your opinions, then keep them to yourself.

I've been fortunate in that I've rarely come across the kind of execrable behaviour you've described here, Sandra. That's probably because I don't spend much time on forums, and I stick to a fairly small set of blogs. But when the nastiness does pop up, I fall back on the lessons I learned as a kid being constantly taunted by my elder brother. Turn your back, ignore it, walk away.

Eileen said...

If it makes you feel any better if you look behind you ou would find many of us standing with you.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I appreciate that Eileen - this time, it was someone else who needed support, unfortunately. And it did bring to mind a 'life's too short' sentiment.

angie said...

Ah, the ever-present "down side" of the fab internet. Blissfully, I haven't a clue what you're talking about. I've cut waaaaaay back (that translates to...A LOT!) on blog/forum time. Partly because while there are often interesting conversations going on, there are ALWAYS dust-ups over unsolvable issues that devolve into complete crap behavior. That gets so flippin' exhausting and I just don't have the energy for it. But watching friends get hurt...that's always painful and anger-inducing. Whether online or in real life, it just sucks.

Anonymous said...

Even though you feel you let down your friend, there probably wasn't much else you could do. If you did respond in your friend's defense it would just escalate the whole thing.

Daniel Hatadi said...

Like Angie, I've cut back on internet hanging too. Not out of discipline, just because I've been following other interests (and hibernating!).

So I haven't seen the anonymous comment you mention, but my first reaction would probably be to think 'TROLL' and move on.

Chances are if it was on my blog, I wouldn't hesitate to delete it. There's just too much good stuff out there in the world to waste time on crap.

Daniel Hatadi said...

After all that, I went over there and put in my 2c. Just gotta love them Intertubes, don't ya?